Tag Archives: author choices

The sky is falling apparently … again.

Today, let’s talk about publishing! Yes, I’m going to talk author shop. That said, I’m supposed to talk author shop really, aren’t I? That’s why I mark all the McMini and dementia posts ‘off topic’ although to be honest I go off topic so often that the book-related stuff is the off topic theme here nowadays. But hey ho, onwards and upwards.

 

So this week I was listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast, at least, I think it was this week’s, it might have been last week [MT disappears to check]. Ah, yes. Last week, number 402. The point is, she was talking at one point about the apparent disappearance of the also-boughts on Amazon. Now, I’ve never actually got much out of the also-boughts, myself, because the folks who read my books seem to have very enquiring minds and read all kinds of weird shizz so they were always stuffed to perdition from the start. People who bought my books have also bought thrillers, horror books, text books and mostly, my other books leaving the Amazon recommendation engine going, ‘Uh?’

However, if your readers are a bit more genre-centric, I’m reliably informed that you can glean readers from the fans of authors similar to your via the also-boughts, readers who are likely to enjoy your stuff. Amazon notices their buying habits so if readers of Terry Pratchett books start buying mine, for example, the recommendation engine goes, ‘Oy-oy!’* and starts automatically recommending my books to people who have bought Sir Terry’s books (oh how I wish). If that happens Bob’s your uncle, your work is introduced to a new and interested audience.

* you didn’t know it was Jewish, did you?

Word is that for some time, Amazon has been trialing the removal of these also-boughts from its current, prime position, or removing them altogether, and introducing more strips of paid advertising instead. They’ve been doing this mostly on their US site so I haven’t seen it but obviously, if they make the switch permanent, it has some serious ramifications.

If the also-boughts disappear, then, in theory, the ads should provide a similar premise, since most authors who advertise chose similar authors’ names as advertising keywords, so that when readers look at books by them, they see adverts for your similar book. However, as usual, there are some unscrupulous spammers advertising everywhere, without a nod to relevance at all like those people who keep offering me products to enlarge my penis … when I’m a WOMAN (money down the drain boys). Or thinking about it, maybe they just have the SEO equivalent of also-boughts like mine.

Anyway, a lot of authors head the advert something like, ‘If you like Douglas Adams you’ll love M T McGuire’ except I don’t because it’s like telling everyone you’re actually God, down to visit the planet incognito, and will unleash a string of one star reviews from Douglas Adams fans who are incensed at your presumption. Indeed, advertising anything funny that’s not Douglas Adams to Adams’ fans is a bona fide recipe to send them into conniptions about your sheer brass neck and bring down a tidal wave of snark upon yourself – believe me, I’ve tried it. Luckily Terry Pratchett fans are more benign so I say things like, ‘The K’Barthan Series. A bit like the discworld series but not as funny.’ But I digress.

So will also-bot-ageddon make any difference if it sticks? Yes, in that it will mean authors and publishers will have to pay for their place on the also-boughts. For readers, there will be no also-boughts to trawl for similar authors to the ones you like. For authors, there’ll be no easy way of finding alternative yet similar authors to yourself to use as advertising keywords. But as David Gaughran, points out, the infrastructure will still be there and Amazon will still use the also boughts algorithm to make recommendations to customers by email. Also, since what an author thinks her audience is may not be correct, Amazon will always go on the buying habits of target readers rather than an author’s guestimate, because that will make them more cash, so presumably they are unlikely to bin the also bots long term.

As a reader, I only use the also boughts or buy on personal recommendation, I never use search because it never returns interesting books, only commercial ones and I’m British so I’m far too cynical to click many ads. That, alone, is enough to suggest Amazon probably won’t bin the also-boughts entirely. I can’t be their only customer who works like that. Maybe it will appear in some other form or maybe they will fix the shambolic awfulness that is AMS ads so they present a more accurate alternative. We can but hope.

What this whole panic does flag up to me, though, is that now, even more than ever, it’s important to avoid being beholden to one big business for anything, be it a retailer for all your income, a particular form of social media for all your communication, or even one product. We have to get our books out to as many retailers as possible, in as many formats as possible and while social media is best done in earnest on one site alone, there’s no harm in having your blog posts go to all the others if the software you use allows.  And yes, that means I really should make some audio books. I’m not sure it has to involve remortgaging the house or tying myself in an exclusive deal to one retailer for however million years* for a crappy 40% royalties, anymore.

* actually, I think it’s seven, or maybe fourteen years, but that’s a sod of a long time. I may be dead by the end of that.

For a number of reasons, mostly Real Life’s continual and annoying interference with my plans for literary world domination, I write slowly. That means that, ideally, I need to engage the kinds of readers who are prepared to pay for my books because there’s a longer gap between each one. But, as digital content becomes further and further devalued we probably will reach a point where it’s all free on subscription and we authors get paid for page reads of our electronic content, if at all. If the review site I used to write on was anything to go on, payment starts at a good rate, the site in question paid 50p a read at the start. By the end, it paid a fraction of a penny for each read and you needed to get hundreds of reads on any piece you submitted to net 10p. I see the subscription model going the same way; 1p per read of each of my 100k+ books. Ouch.

Yet, one of the things Joanna Penn raised this week, was that while recent trends point to electronic content decreasing in value to nothing, there is an increase in people buying other things, instead; their favourite albums on vinyl, hard backs of their favourite books or box sets and other deluxe or collector’s versions. There’s also the idea of the author as a brand, the value of a personal appearance, visiting conventions, schools etc. Not something Real Life gives me room for at the moment but there’s no harm building the MTM brand.

As for product diversity, as well as forms of output for my books, there is merchandise. Many readers do and will buy merchandise, possibly more for comedy books, but, for my own part, the stuff I made on Zazzle with the art work from my books netted me rather more than the books, themselves the first year they were out. Again, I stick that stuff everywhere; redbubble, zazzle, cafepress, and any I go on to find. More importantly, I should to put them on my own site – don’t forget to do that, kids, I’m working on mine. It’s an easier decision for me, since my books aren’t mainstream and committing to one retailer makes little business sense if you write the kinds of books I do. My fans are eclectic and far flung and I usually only sell a couple of copies of each book a month on each site (it’s particularly low at the moment because I’ve run out of cash for ads). The way I see it, on pretty much every site where my book is on sale, I’m likely to sell a handful. The more sites my book is on, the more people will be buying those couple of copies and suddenly, £5 a piece from twenty or thirty obscure book retail sites adds up fast.

Finally, it’s all about control. I think, possibly, the smartest thing you can do is retain control of as much of your work, rights and reader contact as you can. I’ve spent enough time in marketing to be wary of relying on any one big business. Remember when Facebook showed your posts to, like, everyone? Remember when they stopped and authors with followings of thousands found they were only reaching a handful of their fans? Yeh. That. So to me the most important thing, above everything else, is to get a mailing list going, achieve a rapport with the readers there, sell your stuff on your own site and keep all those small sites going. Because that way if one of the big boys does something funny and stuffs up your earnings, it won’t be the end of the world.

To sum it up then, nothing is constant, the only thing we can guarantee about the ebook business is that it will keep changing. And people who are reliant on Amazon will run round complaining that the sky is falling on their heads. So you have to keep as much of the process where you can control it as possible while, at the same time, giving yourself as many options as possible. That’s why, if you write slowly, the way I do, there are probably only three golden rules:

  1. Have as many sources of income as possible, by having your products available in as many different places as you can.
  2. Aim to generate as many different income streams as possible around your books.
  3. Aim to get a good rapport with your readers and sort out as much of that as is humanely possible, through channels where you have control, on your own cyber turf.

______________________________

Happy news. If anyone wants to try reading the weird shit I produce without having to join my mailing list to get some free, and then be subjected to even more weird shit in the form of newsletters, you can buy Book 1 in the K’Barthan Series at a reduced price on Kobo from today until 27th November. There are a lot of other books reduced like this on Kobo, too, not just mine!

Few Are Chosen

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Filed under Free Stuff, General Wittering, Marketing Ideas

What I know now, that I wish I knew then …

The advice kettle is sage and wise and also keeps the water hot, like an urn, only not.

Back on topic this week, I was asked for some advice by a writer who is just starting work on her first book. Even though she appears to be of sound mind, she was dead chuffed with what I wrote and asked if I’d share it on my blog so she could send people to the post. As a result, by special request, here is my rambling view on er … some of the aspects of writing that popped up.

BEFORE YOU START ….

1. What do you want to do?
a) have fun writing a book.
b) have fun writing a book and maybe make a bit of side cash – or at least get the cover artwork and editing costs back.
c) Rule the world: Yeh, move over JK, I am on your tail.

2. Decide on a target genre, who your reader is and what genre/store category your book fits into. Are there other books for the kind of reader you are aiming at. What are they like? What do their covers look like? Hint, you do NOT want your cover to stand out, you want it to be slick, well designed and exactly the same as all the others so readers know what they are getting (I so didn’t do this). Are you going to mash genres? Say you’re writing Sci-fi, is it something else too? Is it funny? Is it also fantasy. Are there other books like yours? Who writes them?

Your answer to question 1 will affect this as if you’re looking to make a living you need to totally conform to the standard tropes. Unless you are going to be an outlier. I thought I was going to be an outlier. It didn’t work too well for me. I write because … actually, I write because I can’t walk away from it and to be honest, walking away would be the sensible option right now.

Pantser or Plotter?

I was firmly in the pantser camp to start with – as in I’d just write and see where it went. It went to lots of good places but my first book took 13 years. Pantsing may well slow your rate of production so if a fast output is your aim plotting is good. Likewise, if your daily existence is the equivalent of having someone opening the top of your head and stir your brains about, constantly, with a wooden spoon, some kind of plot outline is going to be a huge help. Especially if you have menopausal brain fog on top (yes apparently that really is a thing and yes, of course I have it).

I find that even though I now write an outline, there is plenty of wiggle room. The key thing is to experiment and find what works best for you. I find that if I get too confined by an outline I stop enjoying it as much, I quite like the whole wondering around and seeing where it will go aspect, but when I relied solely on that I got frustrated with having to keep stopping while my brain sorted itself out. I really enjoyed the learning process – even though it was trying at times.

However, these days I am very light on time so if I want to produce a book every five years, I do need to plot a little bit so I don’t waste time. On the last two books of the K’Barthan Series I wrote 60k words I didn’t need. Right now my year’s output stands at about 40k so I can’t afford to waste a year and a half’s writing time on plot bunnies. Hence I now plot, but with enough wriggle room for the characters to act on their own initiative. This works for me – and that’s the important take away from this one: that what works for me may not work for you.

Write in whatever way suits you best.

Try to avoid being too rigid in your approach

My brain and my life.

To put this in perspective, basically, I pantsed my first novel and I wrote three versions that I sincerely wish I hadn’t written and one half cock novel (which I managed to tidy up and turn into something decent: my fifth published novel) before I managed to produce a book that measured up to my Quality Standards.

In that time, the male lead had appeared out of nowhere, one character had changed from a mechanic to a ganglord, the first book had ended up being the third and fourth ones and the other two were the backstory that popped up out of nowhere at the same time as my getaway-driving male lead. By the time I’d got to the last book, the plot was so complicated my brain was just about melting out through my nose – oh no wait that was hayfever.

What I mean is, you don’t have to stick too rigidly to the plan but you may have to shake things up originally and see what falls out to know if your book is going to work, or if it’s two books, or a series of short stories, or if the character who has just turned up in prison really is the male lead. Sometimes you get too many characters. Eric, from Escape From B-Movie Hell was actually in the K’Barthan Series to start with. Obviously he was human in that, but he was also telepathic. I just made him into an alien for his new world, his character didn’t changed much.

Likewise, at the second short in a series of five, I discovered that what I was writing was a novel. We’re 60k in and yes, I’ve already binned 40k. I’m not learning from my mistakes am I? But at the same time, the short was not a short so there was no point in forcing the issue. Now it’s a long. So what? It will be what it will be. Just try different approaches and you will find a number of different things that work.

Grammar and Punctuation

Bollocks to it. It’s the editor’s job. As you write you learn more, as you work with a decent editor you will learn loads. The point is, you will need an editor unless you are a very and I mean very rare breed. Most of us are too close in to self edit. Additionally, the only thing I really know about grammar and punctuation for sure, is that there are no right answers.

It doesn’t matter what you do, someone, somewhere will always complain so a lot of it is about having faith in your editor. I do edit my work but that’s more word choices, and tweaking stuff so it makes sense; structural things. It also helps me to do this if I need a bit of re-orientation with my giant sprawling novel. Also I have regular read throughs of what I’ve done so far so I can zoom out to the overall big picture. Otherwise I can get kind of lost. Am I a grammar nazi? No, that’s the job of my editor.

Also there will be points where you really dislike your book or think, ‘blimey this is a bit meh.’ That’s all natural. Everyone does it. Sometimes, a good way of getting round that is to work on several projects at the same time. I do that because my life is hectic and I can’t afford to not write something when the stars align and the grey matter is fired up because it happens so rarely. But working on multiple projects also helps you to ensure you’re always working on something you’re up for and enjoy.

Learning Your Craft

I never bought any how to write books – actually, I tell a lie, I have a Chuck Wendig Book on writing which is epic.

However, mostly I’ve learned to write by reading a lot of work by authors who write the way I want to; Pratchett, Adams, Woodehouse and Bryson, notably, along with Tom Holt, Robert Rankin, Nick Hornby, Spike Milligan and Tom Sharp but also non comic writers like H E Bates, Graham Greene, Neville Shute and Asimov. There’s the odd dash of historical fiction, Moonfleet when I was a kid, the Children of the New Forest and The Three Musketeers, Jane Austen. In addition my work has gained a lot of influences from TV; Dr Who – check my non violent hero who never thumps anyone – the original StarTrek, StarWars are the three big ones but also a lot of the 1960s TV shows like Get Smart, the Man from UNCLE, the Avengers, Thunderbirds etc.

This is where I confess that I am the only living person in existence who is not going to bang on about To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby Dick in this section. I have never read a word of either.

The point is, I’m guessing there is a similar list of relevant books to mine for each genre.  A list of must reads which any author would look to for inspiration if they wanted to write in it. If you don’t have one, make one.

The most important thing is patience. Nailing the whole write a book thing usually takes a long time. You are probably a faster learner than me, most people are, but it took me ages to write a book that measured up to my QS. On the upside, when I did, I knew at once that I’d cracked it.

Setting Deadlines

I don’t do this. It would kill me because if they were realistic I’d be in tears about how long each project was going to take and if they are unrealistic I’ll be beating myself up over failing to meet deadlines. I just set a long term goal and short term, realistic, targets and then creep slowly along. One of my friends got stuck a while back when we were at the same stages in our first book. I was stuck, too, but by telling myself it was temporary, or writing other scenes from other parts of the book, or, indeed other books entirely, I managed to keep on creeping slowly forward, I now have 5 books out, she’s just completing her third novel. Other writer friends have twice as many books out as me after two years in the game. So much of writing is a case of having a firm word with yourself and just getting on with it in whatever way you can. You may find deadlines work for you. I find they don’t but a handful of defined and doable goals, with no done by time, they do help. Like all this, you probably need to experiment to get your own happy medium.

In a nutshell, then, bollocks to deadlines; set targets.

Building an Audience

It’s well worth doing this as you go along rather than waiting until you’re ready to launch your first book. If you can manage a free short story you can give to folks in return for mailing list sign up that will help you to start growing a following. Open an account at instafreebie and bookfunnel to deliver the free book to folks. Join promos with other authors. Find websites and Facebook groups where you can chat to other writers in your genre and exchange marketing tips and ideas. For mailing, it’s up to you but I use Mailerlite – they’re cheap and do all the things I need them to do as an author.

This might sound a bit premature but if you can start getting people invested in you even if it’s only to share your journey, you are more likely to start off with some decent book sales.

Big caveat on your give away short though, it has to be your best stuff because it’s your shop window.

Working Out Who Your Audience Is

This is going to affect what you do considerably. For example it is really, and I mean really hard to reach young people or children online. I’d call my book Young Adult. When I wrote it, as well as me, I was thinking of my nephew, who was 12 years old at the time. When I do events, my books sell exclusively to 10-14 year olds, with the odd adult Pratchett fan thrown in. The buyers are usually parents who want to encourage their children to read books. Online, no matter how well your ads or your site piques their interest, kids will not be able to buy your books without their parents’ say so and you run into a whole heap of legal headaches if minors start signing up to your email list. The folks who buy my books online are 45 and over, more women between 45 and 50, more men over 50.

So, if you are going to sell your books, think long and hard about who you are selling to. You may need to concentrate on libraries or making a print version – Ingram Spark are good for this if you are looking for world wide sales and will get your book distributed far more widely then Createspace or Amazon Print and for far less per copy than LuLu.

Here are resources which might help focus your thoughts on production and marketing, anyway …

The first is a series of books about how to format paperbacks using word and publishing indie books. They are by this guy here:

Aaron Shepard

Mr Shepard’s books, From Word to Kindle and POD for Profit might be useful. The amount of information he is dealing with has increased so where I bought one book: Aiming at Amazon, which dealt with the process of making print books. I would have never got my paperback stuff sorted without them. If you are looking at children’s books it might be worth looking at Adventures in Writing for Children and The Business of Writing for Children and the ones he has written about making a useable kindle file using word!

The three other essential ones that will give you an idea of how you can go about building an audience, indie musician style, and sell your books are a three book set by Patty Jansen. I heartily recommend these as they also propose a way of working that is not reliant on any one bookseller and with a work rate that is realistically attainable. They are:

  • Self Publishing Unboxed
  • Mailing Lists Unboxed
  • Going Wide Unboxed

Links to buy them from all retailers can be found here – scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Or you can buy them, direct, from Patty’s Website here

I realise I’ve probably given you way more information than you might want and about stuff way further down the line than the point at which you are now. It might look daunting but the thing is, if you enjoy writing and work at it, you will get there, and when you do it won’t feel nearly as daunting, putting your work out there. It is like putting your soul on the table and inviting snide comments but somehow it works out OK and the more you do it the more your confidence builds and the more you begin to believe in your work. Not everyone will like your stuff but that’s OK. I have one star reviews and that’s fine, and if it isn’t fine, avoid reading the reviews! 😉

Finally, the most important things

IMPORTANT THING ONE: enjoy it. Enjoy writing and the love for it will shine through in what you say. If you write with conviction and enthusiasm, pretty much any plot will work, I mean, look at my stuff! The rest is gravy.

IMPORTANT THING TWO: never, EVER look at other people’s progress and compare it to yours. They are not you. Their life, their personality, and probably their books are different. Keep your eye on your own writing goals, make them realistic goals and work steadily towards them. Enjoy the process of learning and enjoy writing.

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Gumbification is the name of the game: the capriciousness of science, things and me.

Yes, I have been on holiday! Woot.

Apologies for my absence last week. Though on holiday I was writing and meant to sort out a blog post while the others were skiing but I got too into what I was doing and dismally failed to leave enough time. Which reminds me the final score for that week’s writing was 7,570. Dead chuffed with this as I had to integrate enough exercise into my day to be able to eat as much as everyone else and there were usually things I had to pop down to town and get as well. Walking was very enjoyable but fuck me it hurts. I was so delighted to get home and tackle the hill up to town on a bike instead of my creaky knees. Pain aside though, walking was lovely as not only was the countryside stunningly beautiful but for some reason, I find there is something intrinsically humorous about snow.

Mmm … cheescake anyone?

Interestingly, when you go up a mountain, science tells you that the air pressure around you will not be as high but apart from seeing a slightly elevated heart rate, perhaps, your imagination doesn’t really furnish you with the full implications of what this might mean. Not until you open a bottle of shampoo. Then a practical demonstration will soon put you right.

The thing is, obviously, it’s logical that something which has the same amount of air per cubic inch inside as outside down in the valley is suddenly something with a far higher amount of air per cubic inch inside, than outside, when you go up to an area where there’s lower air pressure. And that only means one thing. The air inside is going to leave very quickly when you open the lid and if there is something between the air and the lid, that’s going to be pushed out with the air, and it will also be leaving the bottle very fast.

Thus it was that our packet of almond biscuits – newly purchased in the valley – ended up looking like a mini zepplin by the time we’d got it up to our apartment nearer the top of the mountain. I also forget to shake down my half full tube of hand cream, which exploded out of the tube when I popped the lid, depositing a neat white worm on the wall near me, my shampoo, suncream and toothpaste all reinforced this lesson (I’m a slow learner it seems) and yes, I was also foolish enough to open a brand new tube of echzema cream for my son which went off like one of those indoor fireworks that ends up looking like a huge silver poo.

Luckily, there is not photographic evidence of this. You’ll just have to take my word for it that I’m as stupid as I say, but I do have a picture of how the empty water bottle I’d closed up at the top of the mountain looked when we got back into the valley. Just shows you how rarefied the air was up there. Not as much inside as outside, you see.

Mmm … pressure inside and outside no longer equal.

Even the ever-efficient McOther didn’t escape gumbification of his own making. We always play scrabble while we’re on holiday. It’s great fun and we all get the giggles most of the time. Imagine McOther’s consternation when he opened our splendid car boot sale travel scrabble – probably circa about 1967 – only to find that somewhere on its way from his desk to his suitcase the bag with all the tiles in had dropped out. Our first game, then, was called ‘making the tiles’ which we did with paper, snortle. Then there was an added frisson of what would happen if anyone sighed too heavily towards the board or, heaven forfend, sneezed! We did have to remake an R after I laughed too hard, sending the ’tiles’ scattering like confetti, and we were unable to find it afterwards.

Paper travel scrabble. Mmm ritzy.

Our fantastic paper tiles, demonstrated is the characteristically excellent hand I drew in one game although for once this was not the norm.

Having taken the piss out of McOther, now, clearly I have to do so about myself ‘for balance’. Here, then, is something that happened the week before we left.

In my town, everyone’s as skint as the rest of the country, ten years ago, when we moved here, there were lots of houses for sale on our street. Then the economy went down the lavatory and most things over two bedrooms and pretty much everything over three bedrooms went off the market over night. It seemed that everyone who was going to move tightened their belts and decided not to. Instead they started converting lofts, cellars, out door sculleries, they started building on, building sheds … you name it they’re doing it. The net result is that there is never a shortage of skips.

As a keen skip shopper I find this rather splendid. OK so I missed three bicycles the other week – not good bikes but I could still have ‘downloaded them’ checked them over and flogged them for £20. However, they were gone by the time I’d returned from the school run. On the up side, at least I know somebody else took them and is either cycling happily or made a few quid.

Then there’s the useful things like boxes and drawers, c.f. my sad tale the other week about locking myself out and having to use a discarded kitchen drawer to gain the height required to lean over the back gate and open it so I could get in and retrieve my keys from where I’d left them in the garden.

There has been one particularly useful skip near us, literally at the end of our road, 20 metres or less from our house. It’s been useful for the plethora of lovely stuff within – cf the bikes but also some new skirting board for our bathroom – and of course it’s also very handy for putting things in. It is intriguing watching a skip, seeing what appears and what disappears especially a long term one. There is definitely a thriving up and down-cycling economy here.

Anyway, the other day, I saw the skip had been emptied and a new one had arrived. I had a peek in the bottom and there I saw a wine rack. A 25 bottle wine rack no less. McOther has a large cellar and wine racks are always greeted with enthusiasm. So I picked the wine rack out of the skip and took it round to our back gate. When I’d unlocked, I picked up the wine rack and realised there was a lot of dust under it.

Hmmm, I thought.

I checked it more closely and … yes … it had woodworm. Then again, I had some treatment for woodworm so I could treat the wood, I reasoned and then give it to McOther. After all we’d discussed, only a few days previously, how sad it was that one of his racks had woodworm and decided that it wasn’t worth treating. If I fixed up this new one, it might be a nice surprise.

But realistically, could I be arsed to treat it?

No.

Accepting this, I picked it up, took it back to the skip and put it in again.

However, it did prompt me to remove a wickerwork chest of drawers from our utility room which has been sitting in a pile of tell-tale dust for some time and treat that for woodworm.

When McOther came home, the skip was full and I told him about the wine rack.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘you know that one we were talking about the other day?’

‘The one of yours?’

‘Yes. That one. Well, I threw it in the skip.’

‘So … you mean I nearly rescued our wine rack?’

‘Yes dear.’

I was quite glad that I hadn’t brought him his own wine rack back. I’d have looked a bit of a chump. As for the chest of drawers, on reflection we decided that despite being treated it had reached the stage where there was more air than wood and we decided to bin it. I forgot to put it out in the skip at night so whizzed round and dumped it in on the way to school with McMini. By the time I returned from the school run the skip had gone. It hasn’t been back since.

That’s the logic of MTM then, bin something I find in a skip because I can’t be arsed to treat it for wood worm – something which is ours, anyway and which I put back because I can’t be arsed to treat it for woodworm twice – then spend hours treating something else for woodworm only to throw it in a skip.

That is illogical, Captain.

Ho hum.

My best eyebomb ever … probably

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Round up!

Eerie speaking to you from the past picture because I don’t have one of my face in the dark with a torch shining up at it.

Today through the magic of science I am speaking to you from the past. Yes, once again, as it’s half term, I’m actually typing this up about a week before it will be published. You remember a while back in this post, I was glossing over the miserable hash I’d made of achieving … well, anything much career-wise in 2017, and talking about what I intended to do in order to organise my time and projects. Half a term in, I thought it would be good time to take stock on how much of my shit I’ve actually got together.

Amazingly my plans for doing the pinger routine have worked extremely well. I feel in control and I have managed a bit of writing, or some work on my writing, most days. Yes, it took three weeks to get rid of Christmas properly and I haven’t done the thank you letters yet – although I’m working on those and I did do the parish magazine – but a routine does appear not only to be emerging but also to be actually sticking. I got rid of enough Christmas to start doing some writing by the last week of January but forgot to log the word counts until 5th Feb because I’m really smart like that. I am optimistic about the small slices thing though, so here is a quick update about each project and how it’s going.

The Unknown Work provisionally entitled: Traffic.

There’s an outside chance I might finish this in 2018. I am currently on the third iteration. I wrote 19,933 words at the start of last year which were really just a load of getting-to-know-the-characters-rubbish but I might be able to turn some of them into a short. That was followed by a 48,982 second version. That was the point I decided to give the Joe Nassis plotting thing a try so I stopped, plotted it as best I could and had a go at writing it by numbers for Nano. I wrote about 32k of the new version for Nano (can’t remember the exact number but it was 25k in the first week) then this kicked off and I had to stop.

It reached 42,300 on Monday but it’s dropped to 41 something by today; I’ve been whipping it into shape a bit this week before moving onto the next bit. Bonus, I have managed to crack a difficult linking scene that was really frying my synapses in an interesting way. Touch and go if I finish this year but it is possible.

Setting Tripwires for Granny and other Tall Family Tales

This one had reached about 17,000 words by the end of 2017 and after a bit of a pause where the fiction took over I have taken it up again this week. There is a new and interesting twist in that I am beginning to think that I would be better splitting it to the family history stories in one volume and the ones about growing up in a school, and my dad, in another. So tripwires is up to 20571. Woot but some of that may end up in.

Hello Jonny Bell

As opposed to Goodbye Mr Chips … another working title, obviously.

Talking to Mum and Dad recently, I realised they have made a lot of visits to the school where Dad taught and so I thought that some stories about Dad’s time working at the school would be a brilliant talking point and memory aide After contacting the school, bless them, they have emailed all the people they have on record who were in my dad’s house asking for stories or reminiscences about him. I have had some fantastic responses with wonderful tales about Dad and the school. He has had an absolute gas listening to Mum and the carers reading them to him. He has also enjoyed reminiscing about those times as it has brought back lots of memories. Even better, the exercise has also focused Mum, my brother and I on who he really is. It’s been amazing and I reckon that those, with the stories I remember added on, would make a cracking book on their own. After all, it’s basically characterisation with knobs on!

Space Dustmen

This one needs the same planning efforts done on it as I did on Traffic. After that I’ll be able to write that along with the others. As well as giving me more options to suit more moods, having more than one project on the go means I can chop and change if I get stuck, giving me time to let stuff settle and let the subconscious find ways to sort problems in a more interesting manner. Hoping to do that before We go skiing during the Spring Holidays, at which point I will have lots of time to write while the others ski.

Jump

This one is finished and waiting for a decent cover. I am taking a while because if I do it right, I can probably come up with an idea that ticks the boxes for a cover that looks interesting and has a person on it but which is also the type of generic scene that I can use more widely to promote the whole K’Barthan range of books; Series, Extras and Shorts, when I get my ads up and running again.

Short stories

As Jump took just under a month to write I can’t help thinking that I should be able to do a couple of shorter books next year – things weighing in at about 20k or so – if I plan them first.

Top of the agenda for the next few weeks then, planning Space Dustmen and some shorts.

Eyebombing book

The book is still going nowhere but at the same time, I’m collecting more material every day, and I’ve set up a blog for them – . Also there has been some progress on other fronts. The Zazzle shop is finally tidied up – I think I mentioned that the other week. So there’s the mother shop for my art and then there’s one for eyebombing and one for K’Barthan/Hamgee University Press stuff. The main shop has ‘collections’ of the good in all the other shop. In addition, I’ve produced a set of 10 eyebombing cards and an eyebombing 2018 calendar. Next year I’ll be a bit more organised about that and might actually manage to do a 2019 calendar in advance. If you’re interested in any of that, you can find the link here:

My main Zazzle Shop with all the ‘collections’:  http://bit.ly/dbhonazzle

Sorry, I have to do a horrible bit.ly link because the affiliate code is a massive number, possibly 32 digits … well … OK … it’s about 16 but it’s not exactly snappy and easy for folks to remember.

 

Meanwhile, the nascent blog, which, irritatingly, doesn’t tie into my instgram feed, is here: https://eyebomber.wordpress.com

Now I need to come up with a consistent name for my eyebombing exploits, work out which days of the week to post eyebombs and then remember to post them. Right now I’m doing that on Sundays and Wednesdays at UK lunch time; i.e. Australasian evening (mostly) and American morning (mostly).

There is also a domain name: http://www.eyebomber.co.uk – although at the moment it doesn’t point to anything.

The truth is, I’m having a real quandary trying to decide on a proper name. I really like, eyebombtheschoolrun because it’s quirky and fun but it’s also long and it only has two more years’ shelf life, after which point it will become a lie because McMini will walk to senior school or go on a bus.

There is also the option of eyebombthereforeIam (Eyebomb: therefore I am). That is more of an evergreen name and I love that, too, but it is still horribly long. I suspect, in the end, I will have to go for eyebombthereforeIam.com and change everything to that.

If I was actually Scottish it would be a no-brainer. I would call it http://www.ayebomb.co.uk – but I feel a bit of a charlatan claiming Scottish heritage if it’s only by association and marriage, rather than lineage. So … quiz time, what do you think I should call my eyebombing exploits?

 

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To Infinity and Beyond! Plans for 2018. #Newyearsresolution (sort of).

Heaven knows how many weeks ago it was now, far back in the mists of time, anyway; before Christmas, I posted about my efforts to bludgeon people into reading my stuff over the course of 2017. Basically, I discovered that I had a much higher rate of read-through on my perma free book than I thought and that I should maybe think about making something else permafree this year. Or Doing Something New.

Mostly, this year, I intend to be Doing Something New. Here are my New Year’s … not resolutions exactly, that will only set me up for disappointment in myself. Let’s call them Things I Intend To Do.

Yeh.

That sounds good. On we go then:

Thing 1: sort out my time management.

This one’s kind of done, I just need to put what I’ve learned into practise. The basic gist is to be more rigid about planning the day. There is so much to do that in order to avoid overwhelm the trick is to do a few sprints of several projects in progress to keep everything moving. I have no idea why I didn’t think of this before. I used to do it all the time at work, which was well busy and usually involved starting the day with a couple of hours’ firefighting. It’s the same now, as I usually get a call from Mum or the carers, or some wages come in to pay. This method sounds nuts, especially for someone like myself who prefers to do things one at a time in sequence. However, a bit at a time quells the rising sense of panic that it’s all too much and nothing is getting done.

Time allocation is also good for controlling those things that suck you in and spit you out at the end of the day before you even know it. Need to find a printer? Set a timer for one hour, make notes on what you need it to do and ask for advice in a forum. Then do something else. After someone answers your post set a timer for an hour and armed with the information, have a look a few different models on line. Compare prices if there’s time, if not, when the pinger pings, stop, schedule an hour on the printer search in for tomorrow and do something else.

This is a bit hit and miss, but even a nod to apportioning my time seems to be working in that it gives me the illusion of control. The time slots are flexible. I’m doing a course at the moment so I give myself 90 minutes to watch each new vid and do the homework. Writing is a minimum of a 20 minute sprint; more if I can, and so on. I try to write down what I need to do as well, so I can enjoy the feeling of achievement crossing it off the list afterwards.

Thing 2: write something every day.

Yes, set the timer, write for 20 minutes and hey presto there are 250 – 700 words that weren’t there yesterday. Not doing too well on that so far as I’m still ‘getting rid of Christmas’ as in thank you letters, taking decorations down and all that other malarky. Not long now though and my real, proper 2018 can start.

Thing 3: make it easier to write.

That is simple stuff like doing a plot outline and a scene list. That way, if there’s only twenty minutes to write, you avoid spending nineteen of them working out where everyone’s got to and what happens next. I am a born pantser and I was very sceptical about plotting but I did some free training from Joe Nassis and it is really good. If you get the chance, or find it online somewhere it’s so worth doing. He does a course attached, too, but I don’t have time to do it justice. The principles he sets out are brilliant though because the technique gives space for the characters to do their own thing but without you heading off after plot bunnies.

Other ways to make writing easier to do include:

  • Having more than one project on the go so there is always something I feel like writing.
  • Planning in advance (as mentioned) not hugely but enough to have titles for your scenes and be able to dive in and write one at any point in the book.
  • Doing sprints to focus my attention on what I’m doing.
  • Taking a break from the computer so that the time spent at the keyboard is quality time – ie knitting in front of the telly at night rather than writing mailshots or coding web pages.

Thing 4: set out my wares better.

Phark, alright no giggling at the back you smutty lot. At the moment folks can buy my books in a fair few places. They can also buy bits of my art, and bits of artwork from the books. After using some of my own artwork to illustrate a blog post the other day I linked it to a place where the picture is for sale as a card. I sold three. It occurred to me that I always sell a few cards when I take a stall to sell my books but that none of this is organised. None of it is anywhere easy for people to find if they want it. Then there are my books, currently, there’s is no way people can buy my books from my site.

However, just recently Bookfunnel introduced a system that will make that possible. It looks complicated but I am looking into opening my own online store, so people can buy ebooks direct from me.

Thing 5: diversify.

Leading up from Thing 4 really but … tidying up the other day I found the beginnings of a sketch of General Moteurs, and since Unlucky Dip, with my dodgy homemade cover seems to get way more downloads than my other books in giveaways it makes sense to resurrect plans to make more artwork of the characters like this.

Not General Moteurs

Guess who?

Originally, the plan was to do a spoof of the cover of A Hard Day’s Night but my pictures of The Pan of Hamgee came out really shit. To be honest, I thought they all came out really shit but other folks, people who don’t even know me, seem to disagree. An artist friend tells me this is usual because you’ll always be too close to your own drawings. Perhaps it’s time to try that one again, then see about turning it into postcards. Also on the agenda is making more things like the K’Barthan bling pictured to the right, or possibly below, but nearby anyway.

You can do all this stuff on sites like cafe press and zazzle. They are really expensive but they print, ship and process payment after which they give me a royalty – a pitifully small royalty but one that takes no admin or effort on my part after making the original product.

In other words, keep up the policy of paying more for cover art that can be used for other things.

Then there’s the eyebombing. I’ve really missed a trick there. The other day when sharing some of the year’s eyebombing highlights someone said,

‘You should make these into postcards! I’d buy a set.’

Amazingly, I’ve done nothing arty with my eyebombs short of sharing them on instagram and facebook. I’ve written the book text but left it sitting for lack of cash. Now I’m thinking I should have made a calendar and all sorts. Head desk. So for 2018, now that I am earning for the admin I do for my parents, my plan is to squirrel that cash away and then use it make more of the opportunities that arise, not to mention try and notice what is happening when said opportunities are busy smacking me about the face and still failing to get my attention.

Thing 6: chill.

Yep, that’s Thing 6.

You can never do all the things you ought to, so you just have to content yourself with doing what you can.

There’s been a bit of a journey this year with the situation with my parents and the sadness associated with it. Sadness can be a habit if you’re not careful. On the other hand, if you blank it too effectively you wonder what damage it’s doing inside, and you have to open yourself up to being hurt because that’s the only way you can engage with the people you love who are suffering.

Suffice it to say that this year has been about learning to do what it is possible to do, accepting that it isn’t as much as I’d like, and letting the rest go. It does feel as if I’ve made some strides with this now, not least in that I’ve found ways to shoulder the burden without ceasing to write, although I had to stop writing for about nine months to work that out. I think it was worth it. In other circumstances I imagine I could be a better mother, a better daughter and a better all round better person. But looking at it, I’m probably about as decent as I’m capable of being right now. I haven’t murdered anyone and I’ve only been rude to the gets I’ve encountered occasionally, so that’s OK.

Happy New Year everyone.

Run fast, laugh hard, be kind.

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Navel Gazing and Pocket Lint; MTM’s Year in Publishing 2017

Yes it’s time for me to do a round up of business. When I say business, I mean my business, such as it is, not ‘the business’ of world book sales. Anyway here goes.

So, how’s it been?

So so if I’m honest. Marketing-wise, I have not had the time to do it justice but I’ve turned the corner with the writing, definitely.

Sometimes, in publishing, it can feel as if you are running faster and faster to stand still. Now, clearly an author with my output rates isn’t going to be able to keep up with the standard, low margins high output model that is doing so well.

However, I have happened upon a group of authors who are doing very well thank you without ever troubling the best seller lists. It all started with a thread on Kindleboards here from Australian sci-fi and fantasy author Patty Jansen. She has also written a really good set of books about her alternative approach which I highly recommend any fellow authors who are stressing about sales, and what have you, should read.

Seeing as I’ve always had a slightly different approach to what I want to achieve with my book sales, I thought it was time I evaluated my efforts so far, all of them. I’m using Booktrakr, which may not be 100% accurate but is on point enough to give a good idea of my career wide sales.

One Man: No Plan M T McGuire

Which Genre? This one.

What genre are we in?

OK, in case you don’t know. I sell humorous science fiction fantasy action adventure books with a dash of romance here and there but no squelchy bits. They’ve been described by a friend as ‘Douglas Adams meets James Bond’.

Or to put it another way, the books are genre transcending, which is polite-speak for,

‘they’re an extremely hard sell.’

And when I say ‘hard sell’ I mean it. Frankly, I suspect I’d have an easier time trying sell a dog turd in a paper bag than my books. BUT when people finally read them, they do tend to enjoy them.

General overall goals in writing

Over the course of my writing ‘career’ I’ve rather loosely kept to four goals:

  1. Produce more books and find people who will love them.
  2. Find a way to access those people where I am in control ie no middle man like Facebook hiding my posts from everybody because they want me to pay for ads.
  3. Make some cash, although to be honest, I haven’t really written enough books to make much, but I’ve set a goal of £300 a month – about $400 – by the end of 2019.
  4. Increase sales from sites other than Amazon because they dick their suppliers around less than Amazon does.

In so far as I have a customer strategy, it’s get a small group of folks who love your work and buy everything you do. Keep as much control over your access to them as possible – ie have as many on your mailing list as possible rather than relying on third parties, although I’d rather someone followed me on Facebook than stayed on my newsletter list when they didn’t want to.

So basically, I’m looking at the 1,000 fans theory, I’m looking for superfans.

Goals for 2017.

Last year, such as they existed, my goals were:

  1. Experiment with new ways to find readers who will enjoy my stuff.
  2. Write more books.
  3. Concentrate on growing my mailing list and making sure that the people on there want the things I can give.
  4. Find out if there’s anything they want related to my fiction books which I can deliver but haven’t yet.
  5. Find out what the folks on my mailing list want if it’s not the books I’ve written and decide if I can deliver it to them.

What actually happened?

A lot happened in my personal life over 2017 and I had to stop writing and evaluate the situation. Basically, I had to work out if I could continue to write at all. Then I had to work out what, if anything, I could to change of the handful of factors within my control to make sure that happened. I sorted a new way of working. Tried it out, wrote a short and half a long, sent the short to my editor and … she died bless her.

So this year’s new release – originally for September – will now happen next year.

During the various crises, I let a lot of stuff ride, I just about kept the mailing list going with promos, book recommendations and group giveaways. I also did a couple of mailing swaps. I managed an International Bookbub.

However, it felt as if my book sales had stopped. Dead.

This morning, I decided I’d have a look and see if it really is and if so, how bad the situation was. Was I right thinking my sales are dropping like a stone?

Yes and no. Let’s look at some graphs!

No wait! Don’t run away.

Monthly Revenue 2014-2017

You can see three big spikes here, the first one, mid 2015 is when I first made Few Are Chosen permafree. I optimised it for UK readers and I was getting between eleven and thirty downloads a day. As you can see, a lot of those folks went on to buy the other books. In early May there was an algo change and the downloads dropped from eleven to thirty to about five or ten each day. Read throughs, drop accordingly. I never managed to optimise my listing for the UK store quite as effectively because they brought in KU and you weren’t allowed to use the words, Kindle, Good or Free so I had to bin my highest performing keyword phrase, ‘Good Free Kindle Books.’ As you can see, that cost me about $100 a month and Amazon about $30, which seems counter intuitive of them and is one of things that has me wondering if KU is about more about destroying the opposition than anything.

Monthly revenue from Jan 2013 to now … yeh you are welcome to laugh!

Numbers of books bought from 2013 to now note the 99c international Bookbub which makes a huge spike on right hand side of this graph but doesn’t register much in the revenue graph shown above.

As you can see there’s a small blip around the time Escape From B-Movie Hell comes out – Dec 2015/Jan 2016, that’s in red. I had about 400 people on my mailing list at that point and did a full-on launch. It shifted 65 of them but a lot of the original K’Barthan Series fans seemed unwilling to give Escape a try. Indeed, I wonder if those sales were simply folks from the Bookbub the month before who were moving on from the series to the stand alone.

Ditching the Permafree.

Since the permafree first in series was only getting a handful of downloads a day and a far lower proportion of those seemed to be translating into sales for the paid books, I put it back to paid in January 2017.

Yes, this cover attracts more readers than the cover for Few, but Escape, which has a person on it, does equally well.

Looking at the graphs now, that might have been a mistake but at the time, I’d recently discovered Instafreebie and was getting a fair few downloads there. Also, a 105k book is a hell of a lot to give away – I’m not sure if that means I got greedy or desperate. Since running a year’s worth of Instafreebie promos, I’ve discovered that the short story, Unlucky Dip, is downloaded far more in promos than the novel. Furthermore, the people who have downloaded it, joined my mailing list and stuck around are one of the most dynamic and responsive groups. Escape also scores more highly in downloads when offered free. Both the books doing better have a person, or people, on the cover. Clearly the adage about having people on book covers is true. Go figure.

The rates that folks read the other books seems a bit better on Instafreebie and Bookfunnel, too. Over the three years I had the first in series on permafree, it was downloaded 19,140 times (according to Booktrakr). You can gauge how well the permafree is working by the number of sales of the second book. The results break down as follows:

  • 2015-2016 227 onward sales of book 2 and the highest of the two others sold 275.
  • 2016-2017 there were 148 onward sales of book 2 and the highest of the others sold 206
  • 2017-2018 (or at least end of Dec) there were 32 onward sales of book 2 and the highest of the others sold 60. However, the box set, sold 54 copies so in ‘real’ terms it’s probably a drop in onward sales of about 20 books.
  • Revenue is way down from about £1,500 the two previous years to £800 or so

On the face of it, that looks as if a permafree book might still be a smart move for me, but perhaps a new one, or one written specially to give away would be the way to go. I am sorting a potential candidate out with the K’Barthan Shorts. If they come in at 10-20k each I can use one of those or do one longer one at 50k so I can try and get it onto Bookbub.

That said, though less people are buying my books, meaning that growth has, in theory, slowed down, if those people are folks I can access, directly with new release bulletins, rather than being at the whim of Amazon, Facebook or the like, they might be a lot more valuable to have on my side in the long run.

Instafreebie or Bookfunnel versus Facebook Ads and Permafree.

Is the $20 a month on Instafreebie worth the outlay? Possibly. When I joined Instafreebie I was on a $10 account at Bookfunnel so I kept that and added Instafreebie by turning the Facebook Ads off (I was getting about 20 new sign ups a month for $30).

The thing with Instafreebie is that, barring the ones who’d downloaded Escape and Unlucky they seem to take a very long time to get round to reading, we are talking, literally, years in some cases from what they’ve told me, but they are keen, and interested, and they also buy from sites other than Amazon so they fit my ambitions to increase my access to readers on other platforms. Hopefully I’ve been sewing some seeds there.

With Instafreebie, 2,417 readers have downloaded books from me in return for mailing list sign up. I have offered three different books and I suspect I may have shot myself in the foot there with folks on my mailing list downloading all of them. This could well go some way to explain the drop in income I have experienced although this year, Escape, the pariah stand alone, has done way better this year although I did get a 99c International Bookbub on that. Then there’s the fact many haven’t read the books they’ve downloaded yet, so people are not reading them quickly and buying all the other books the way they were after downloading the permafree. Finally, there’s price, I have put it up from $4.99 to $8.99 – and lower on Amazon where the books are still $4.99. I may need to review that.

Interestingly, at Bookfunnel, I’ve given away 148 books – some a short and some the original permafree – in return for mailing list sign up, and 2,251 copies of Few Are Chosen, alone. Of those, 306 were giveaways and the rest were people who’d signed up to get the book on Instafreebie clicking the link on my autoresponder sequence to download the book from Bookfunnel.

I give the second book away in my mailings, too. 2,835 folks have downloaded those; 60% of the folks who’ve visited the download page.

Clearly it’s much easier to download books from Bookfunnel than from Instafreebie!

The numbers for this year that I gave in the last section suggest that the permafree made a big difference and that I should definitely add it to my marketing arsenal!

Sales from other vendors than Amazon

Free books given away. The big spike in the middle is an international Bookbub and the other to the left is an E-reader News Today.

This is the same graph; free books but shown by vendor. After the Bookbub vendors other than Amazon feature much more prominently. Woot!

Clearly the Bookbub for Escape From B-Movie Hell resulted in some sales on other sites than Amazon. At last there are other colours edging into the dark blue. To my delight, the trend continues right through to today. Kobo promos are excellent for this. What appears to be happening is that sales of my books on Amazon are, indeed, tanking since the April algorithm change. However, sales on the other sites have held steady. I never expected this. Sure, I do Kobo promos and they are excellent but Smashwords are delivering too. Google play is tailing off a little but sales are still trickling in – for all the reports that they are making free books invisible, a permafree on Google Play might be a good plan.

Paid book sales by vendor. Amazon still has the major share but Kobo and Smashwords are coming up the rails.

 

This is my yearly income since I’ve been publishing books.

If we look at the yearly income graph we can see a substantial drop this year on last year. It also includes a 99c international Bookbub.  Whereas most months, in 2016, I was selling at least one book every day, this year, that’s not happened at all and you can see that with no permafree there are fewer downloads of the second book in my series.

Is it all bad?

D’you know, I’m not sure but I think it might be better than it looks. April on Amazon was miserable for me this year. That could be an algo change, or it could simply be that after four months the last of the folks who’d downloaded the first book in my series for free had bought the rest. And of all the sales channels, it’s Amazon which is down the most, with Google Play dipping a little. Kobo and Smashwords seem to be reasonably stable.

Clearly, I want my books everywhere so I will always sell them on Amazon, but I also want to get away from relying on a single retailer which, in my experience, has been a more of a primadonna to supply to than the others. At the moment it looks as my efforts to widen the field, at least, are succeeding. Also, bear in mind I’ve not had a new book out for two years and my duties of care have eaten into my work time so I’ve done far less marketing. As we speak I have some ambivalent AMS ads which aren’t doing that well – and to be honest, I think it’s going to take too long to research and produce properly targeted ads to make them viable. However, I will definitely return to Facebook ads and I will also dip my toe into a couple of other advertising channels in the New Year. It may take months to produce some ads, and it will take months to produce some books, but a couple of hours a week on these things is better than nothing at all.

What does this tell us?

  • That I am correct and my income is dropping.
  • That it might be worth my looking at a permafree again, but something shorter than a full 120k book.
  • That my upped prices may be a little too high, either overall or on some sites.
  • That other platforms will tolerate a higher price than Amazon.
  • That my particular rate of output might be better suited to other platforms than it is to Amazon.
  • That my decision to pitch my books as artisan crafted rather than mass produced is the right one.
  • That people might, possibly, be taking longer to read free books.
  • That figures are sometimes different to your expectations.
  • That marketing evolves all the time, what works today may not work tomorrow.
  • That Amazon is quirky – and therefore best not relied upon.
  • That you can infer many things from the same information.
  • What works for other authors may not work for you.
  • Cultivating the right connections is important. You need to find places where folks will share information with you and where you can share it with them. Almost all the decent marketing information I’ve had this year comes from two groups, one on Facebook and one on Goodreads.
  • I think there may be a disconnect between the kind of people I think are on my mailing list, and reading my books, and the folks who actually are.

Tune in next week, if you can bear to, to discover how I’m going to try and breathe some life back into my book sales for 2018.

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Coming to terms with #dementia

For some time now, I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog, or a website, specifically dedicated to my experience of dementia; with my dad, mainly, but also, these days, with my mum since she, too, is getting very forgetful.

However, it seems far more sensible to do it all on here. The subject matter on here is so random anyway that I doubt many of you will take exception to the more detailed post about my dementia-related experiences every now and again. If you look at the menu, there’s now a dementia section and all the posts which mention Dad’s Alzheimer’s are tagged Dementia and should appear there. Obviously, in true M T McGuire form, it would be pointless talking about my situation if I didn’t occasionally share a list of things that have either worked to keep me sane or that I’ve fucked up royally so that you don’t have to. This isn’t exactly that list but below are some of my less than ordered thoughts on the subject.

Here are the golden highlights of coping with dementia, in yourself or in others.

Be not proud! And be absolutely up front with people.

Yes, you read that correctly. All will become clear.

The first sign that something was amiss with my dad was when my parents refused to come and stay. Our spare room was on the top floor and the loo was in the middle. Dad always needed a wee in the night and he began to wake up in a very disorientated state.  Mum didn’t always wake up too and she was afraid he’d fall down our stairs. So for three years, from about 2004, they refused point blank to come and see us. Mum never told me what was wrong, she just made up excuses. She’s bollocks at making up excuses so I assumed I’d upset her but she said I hadn’t. I got very down. I didn’t know what to do.

Luckily, I have a brother so I rang him and asked him what the fuck my parents were up to. He didn’t know either but said he’d ask them. When he broached the topic with Mum she told him at once. So it was he who explained about the stairs, about Dad going weird in the night and Mum’s concerns. The last eighteen months we were in that house Mum and Dad started coming to see us again. We were in a small market town with a perfectly decent hotel and a lot of equally decent guest houses. We put them up in one, within walking distance of our house. The moral of this story then, be honest, because when trouble crops up, there’s usually a work around.

Mum could have saved herself and us heartache if she’d just admitted that Dad had a tendency to get dizzy when he got up in the middle of the night. She wouldn’t have even had to mention the dooh-lally part. Likewise, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache if I’d read the signs and worked out that something was wrong earlier or just asked my brother sooner. But hey ho, it all worked out in the end.

Act early.

These things are like the flight path of a landing aeroplane. You sink, level out, sink, level out and so on to the bottom of the chasm. If you can manage to think ahead a bit, to what the next level of deterioration might be, you can save yourself a lot of grief. It’s hard to look at the next stage of the illness when you,are losing your mind or when a loved one is losing theirs. Naturally you don’t want to think about it, but trust me, for the sake of everyone concerned it helps. For a long time, Mum and Dad seemed to be in denial. Mum kept a very close eye on Dad and I watched her sinking. Imagine if you are eighty and you are looking after someone who is, essentially, a giant two year old. As a mum with a two year old of my own, I knew how hard I found it to keep my eye on him all the time. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to cope when you are elderly.

Talk about it.

Mum and Dad are actually very good at this, they have talked to me, extensively, about being mortal, I know what kinds of funerals they want, what kinds of hymns, what kind of goodbye. I suspect they’ve willed money for a piss up wake. They also talked to me about what might happen if they went nuts well in advance of any dementia appearing. In Mum’s case we have talked about how she felt when she was in a similar position to that which I’m in now, looking after my granny. My grandmother had lots of small strokes, micro bleeds at the back of her head and as Mum puts it, ‘she just faded away’. For her last year my granny was lying on a bed in a home. In those days there were no living wills or powers of attorney for healthcare. Even so, when my granny got pneumonia, they asked my Mum what kind of treatment she would want, Mum said to make her comfortable. They did, she got better without the life prolonging drugs and died peacefully a few months later.

In her last year, as well as being bed-bound, my granny couldn’t speak and made no signs of recognising Mum’s presence. Mum used to go and see her and sit there crying quietly for forty minutes. The staff in that home were wonderful, and were wonderful to Mum, too. They assured her that my granny was different, more peaceful, even calmer, after a visit. They took the time to see that Mum was OK too. Mum and I still talk about this, and I really wish I’d been able to have the same kinds of conversations with Dad about his dad, who also ended up in a home. It’s hard to talk about these things, but if you can open up to someone you trust it will help and it will also give your carers a feel for what your wishes will be, and how you will want to be treated, when you are no longer able to tell them.

If you are the carer, it’s worth making sure you have someone to talk to and if the main carer is not you it’s worth finding someone for them. There is a lovely lady who comes to see Mum who is the deacon at her church. I saw the lady talking to Mum one time when she was in hospital and couldn’t speak. I asked Mum, afterwards, if it would help to see this lady often. She said it would. She never rang the deacon herself, so I did and now she comes to visit Mum regularly. I know it helps.

People want to help you. Let them and if you can’t let them down kindly.

There are a lot of people around my mum and dad who love them almost as much as I do. They are sad to see people they love and respect struggling. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that the people who love you may be even more upset about your illness than you are. So if you or a loved one are in similar poop, and people offer to help you, let them. Mum and Dad have a big group of folks who give them lifts, pop in to visit, pick up shopping sometimes or generally help out. I think they had a hard time accepting help from these folks at the start but now they revel in it. They get continuity in that these are people they’ve known for some years, yet they also have variety in that it’s not the same old faces. Likewise for the helpers, there are enough of them to avoid fatigue setting in. Despite his dementia, my father is a very social animal, and this has helped him stay with us for far longer. Likewise, Mum and Dad have a four carer team but they also employ a cleaning lady for a couple of hours a week and a family who work in the garden. These folks all give support that goes well beyond their job descriptions. They do this because when Mum and Dad were fitter and younger they were good to these folks. I’m a great believer in karma now that I’ve seen it in action on my folks. So if people offer help, and it’s useful help, let them. Pride has no place in this.

But at the same time, set parameters for your helpers.

If anyone helping you, or your loved one, gets too clingy or too overbearing, tell them. When you are ill and losing your capacity to process everything but your emotions, you don’t have time to put up with anything that will make it worse. So if someone who wants to help is … well … not helping, you have to tell them. Or if you can’t, you have to find someone who can and ask them to do it for you.

My mum loves her garden. She sees it as a living thing, an entity which must be treated with kindness and sympathy. However, she is very arthritic and once Dad had started to get really forgetful, it was too much for her to do on her own. There was a point where the chap who was coming to do the garden kept cutting down the wrong things, pruning stuff wrong, planting vegetables in the wrong places, forgetting to water them etc and you could see that something inside Mum was curling up and dying along with her plants, but she couldn’t let him go. She couldn’t face the hassle of finding a new gardener while she was trying to look after Dad, or, indeed, the hard task of telling the current one she no longer needed his services. Her heart was so full from the pain of seeing her soul mate, my father, her husband, in such distress.

In the end, after a family holiday, my Mum became very ill with pleurisy. At this point, Dad had reached the point where he was so forgetful that he couldn’t cook or look after her the way he would have done. My brother and sister in-law went to stay and they gave the gardener notice and employed the people who do it now. My mum almost cried with relief and the ‘new’ gardeners are wonderful and love Mum and Dad dearly.

Moral, don’t wait for the crash. Take action first.

Avoid being too proud.

Mum is of the old school where she believes that if Dad is ill she should look after him herself and that nobody should know about his disability for as long as possible. But actually, when you’re in your eighties, you can’t look after someone who weighs about eighteen stones, can’t wash himself and has to be talked through the process of going to the bathroom every two hours hours, every night. You need help.

When Mum finally agreed to let someone come and sit with Dad for an hour, three afternoons a week, so she could get out into the garden, she blossomed. And the lady who came round did the ironing and all sorts of other stuff that Mum was struggling with fitting in around caring for Dad. So it helped in all sorts of other ways she hadn’t anticipated. It also meant there was no longer the danger of Dad coming out into the garden looking for Mum and falling down. The carer would bring him out, with his walker, and sit with him.

Even if your loved one seems gone, keep searching.

Dad is very different to how he was. He’s the same person, but he’s a different incarnation of that person, the raw genetic make up. He has lost his filters, his ability to moderate what he says and he has become very much more self centred. Just as a child learns to think about others, so as he regresses to a more simplified state of self, Dad has lost that skill. It’s not his fault. It’s just the way it is.

He can no longer read, his ability to read a novel was one of the first things to go but he is unable to read even short stuff now. It’s interesting that Mum writes herself notes, but even at the start, if she wrote a note for Dad and put it by the clock saying, ‘went out to garden at ten to three back in for tea at four’ he would not think to read it or look at the clock. This was so early on, when he was just my dad with no short term memory. These days he can be a little boorish, which is incredibly sad because Old Dad would be horrified if he could see himself like that. But a lot of the times, the boorishness is asking for help. ‘I can’t get a word in edgeways,’ means, ‘your sentences are too long for me to follow, can you slow down.’ The answer is to speak in short sentences, starting with a shared memory and then as the conversation gets going, you can bring it forward to the now. Lo and behold! Before you know it, back comes Dad. Reaching Dad is all about trying new things. When the landscape of his mind changes, you just experiment until you get him back again.

It’s OK to grieve for someone before they go.

Although I’d recommend keeping it to short bursts. But sometimes you need to cry. Or just drive up to the top of a hill and shout your anger into the wind – my parents live near the South Downs so that’s quite easy for me. But yes, while my dad is still himself in some ways, I still pine for the refined non-raw version. But I also hear him, I hear him in the way I talk to my son, in the anarchic conversations we share, I hear him as I tell my son to get into bed! And that if he could manage to clean his teeth sometime before I die of old age it would be wonderful. I hear my dad speaking through me as I comfort my son after a bad dream. I remember who Dad can be, over and above the raw genetic version I have now, and it’s extremely important to me that I do, that I keep sight of the man who is in there still, but who the present Dad can’t be. And I cry. But that’s OK. Sometimes you need to cry. Ration yourself, though. Indulge your grief too much and it’ll take you under but bottling it up is also unhelpful.

Sometimes your loved one’s disease will speak more loudly than they do.

My dad says some seriously inappropriate things but it’s just his illness talking. It’s hard to accept that sometimes, especially when the person says something that upsets you, but you have to let it go. If you can, it will allow the relationship between you on good days to be much more similar to the old one before the dementia came.

Make the most of the good days.

Need I say more? Enjoy them. Do stuff. Go out on a whim. My parents are the most social dementia sufferers I’ve ever met. They still go out, visit friends, have lunch with people … It says a lot for their friends, too, that they are so accepting.

Pace yourself.

Being a carer is hard. It can fill up your life, suck up your emotional energy, sap your physical energy, your strength of spirit and your creative mojo. Alzheimer’s is a long, slow death of a thousand tiny cuts. To put it in perspective, Terry Pratchett was diagnosed four years after Dad began to deteriorate. Dad’s still around. It’s been about fourteen years, the last nine or ten that we’ve really known something was wrong, but … fourteen for Mum, definitely. Not a barrel of laughs.

The truth is, no matter how much you may love the person in your life who is ill, you cannot give your all for that amount of time. You have to ration how much you give. You have to look after yourself, leave time for yourself, or you will go under and then you’ll be no use to anyone. And if you aren’t the main carer and they are neglecting their own sanity and health, you have to make them understand this as well. As it’s often said, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t run twenty four miles at the same speed as Usain Bolt.

Do what’s right for them: it usually works out.

There was a point when I would worry that Mum and Dad were so far away. It was difficult to get them into a home because Mum was far too well to go into a home and she refused to send Dad into one alone. My brother and I discussed moving them nearer one of us but if we did that, which one of us would it be? We live on different sides of the country. So they stayed put in their own home and I worried that if something happened, and I couldn’t drop everything and be with them, I would have to let them fall. Indeed, eventually, I did.

Mum had a stroke and went into hospital in March 2016. At least by this time we had the afternoon carer and an agency helping Mum and Dad get up in the mornings. I had to ring the lovely lady who would look after my dad in the afternoons and ask her to sleep with my dad so I could drive down to Sussex and be with my Mum. I remember sitting with Mum in hospital at three am. They asked her where she was, she said she was at home, they said she was confused, I told them no, she was having trouble speaking and that what she meant was, she was with me. They finally got her onto a ward at five and at six they told me I should go because the car park was free until six am. I slept two hours that night. Mum came home at three in the afternoon. I had to try and look after both of them. It was horrific. I slept two nights with Dad while Mum slept in another room. Then my boy needed to go to school and my husband to work. I had to go home. I hired a care agency for the following week and my brother came down for the next three nights.

There was a week of special hell while we got a care team sorted. Mum refused to accept she needed live in care, but she kept falling asleep with things on the stove and burning saucepans, and she was getting very forgetful. My brother and I wanted to move them near one of us but they both refused. Now that we have their lovely care team in place I realise they are so much better off where they are, where they have friends and where they have lived for over 40 years.  Once they had twenty four hour care, keeping them in their own home was a no-brainer. Thanks to their fantastic care team, they now enjoy a social life far and above anything I could deliver if they came to live here. They are in the right place for them even if there were points when my brother and I felt like it was the wrong place for us.

Make time for yourself.

When you have children, people say you must keep something that you do just for you; continue your career, a part-time job, a hobby, whatever; something that validates your humanity as something other than your little one’s mum. Something that is not about motherhood. Something that is about YOU. It is very hard to squeeze that in when you are trying to care for elderly parents and a small person at the same time.

That is why, even though I have to fight for the time to write and struggle to find ways of putting my head anywhere close to a place where it’s possible, I can’t give up on it. Because I have to hang onto something that makes me who I am; something that defines me as someone other than Mum and Dad’s daughter, or McMini’s Mum, but ME; Mary.

You cannot self actualise though the job you do, but likewise, you are more than the visits, the form filling, the planning, the admin. Give yourself you time. Allow yourself to be human. You are a person in your own right, you are important as well. Allow time to be you.

Conclusion

Well … that was a bit of a monster, wasn’t it? But in a short snappy sentence, I guess the nub of it is this: when a loved one is long-term ill then, if you want to look after them, you have to look after you.

Chilling is important.

 

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